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How to Win Call of Cthulhu Tournaments for Fun and Profit

By Paul Maclean


As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a very serious piece of literature. This article represents some of my very personal views on how I like to play and enjoy Chaosium's excellent game and has led to some moderate success (UK Student Nationals 'Horror' winner 2001, 'Open Superheroes' Winner, 2003, Call of Cthulhu winner 2007).
There are no guarantees to winning tournaments. RPG's are usually about co-operative play for good reasons, Call of Cthulhu doubly so - the opposing forces are always too great to consider 'every man for himself' as a realistic option.

The following relates specifically to tournament play which in itself is a strange beast, consisting of people you've (usually) never met before, playing for simple enjoyment or with eyes to the prize - where you're hurled into a scenario with a randomly drawn pre-generated character of someone else's making and with a 'who knows what' kind of potentially apocalyptic climax only a few hours away. In tournament play there is rarely a 'tomorrow'...

I've broken down into sections what I consider to be important aspects in play; some by their title may be self explanatory, others I have tried to expand upon. If this piece is of interest to you, then you may also wish to read Mark Morrison's article Judging the Insane from DAGON #25 (1989), a copy of which is available from Yog-Sothoth as a download.

"How to win"...

Before the game begins 

Bring the right materials - would seem obvious, but many forget. A small amount of stationery - pens, pencils, notepad or similar and I would recommend a highlighter pen.

Know thyself - One way or another you will have ended up with a character to play and will usually have only five or ten minutes to become thoroughly acquainted before play begins. Depending on the scenario author, background information can be as slight as 'you are an amnesiac', through to two page essays saying 'you are a soviet double agent, with three degrees in agricultural science and an in depth knowledge of the works of Tolstoy and The Beatles greatest hits'. Read any background text very carefully; use a highlighter pen to pick out keyword points and potentially critical information. A trait of many tournament characters is they have some developed relationship with the other members of the party - some your character may like, some you may dislike or even be related to in some way. Don't forget your own character name! (see the next point).

Know others - After you've gone over your character your Keeper may ask you to introduce yourself to the rest of the party, take this opportunity with both hands! If the Keeper doesn't make this suggestion, suggest it yourself and begin (unless the Keeper has another agenda forbidding this). By having better knowledge of your fellow party members you can interact and work better as a team - who's the academic? Who's the hero-type? Who's the medic? Who's afraid of furniture? You know the drill. Note their names, what key character traits did they reveal to you when they talked about themselves? These are the people who are going to help you stay alive over the next three, four or more hours. Get to know them.

Notes help - One of my tricks is to sketch out the table we're playing around and mark on the relative positions of the other players and the keeper, along with crib notes of important points about the other players - character name, age, sex, relationship, physical condition etc. An example of such a sketch on the back of a completed Tournament name card can be seen at the end of this article.

During the Game

Stay in character - f you're really serious about playing then never break character during the game. Don't be tempted to make a quick quip out of character because you think it's funny. It can be disjointing to the flow of the game and the Keeper's eyes may be upon you - taking notes as they do. Always refer to other players by their character's name and do make use of their name rather than gesturing to them and saying 'why don't we..?' Again the notes from earlier are critical here. Try and think yourself into your character - do as you think they would do. They are not pawns on a tabletop; you are now them (a bit like method acting). Never use prior or outside knowledge, especially of a Cthulhu Mythos subject. You may be terribly wrong, and will undoubtedly get marked down.